Tag Archives: Abuja

Diary of a trip to four Nigerian cities

I apologize again for the long absence from this blog. I was not going to allow myself to post again until I handed in a chapter of my dissertation. However, this morning when I opened up the Weekly Trust and saw nearly two paragraphs missing from my column, leaving an abrupt transition that made no sense, I decided I needed to get the corrected version out there. It seems that a photo was accidentally pasted over the missing portion during layout, as the online version has the missing pieces. At any rate, here is my column as submitted this week. If you read the hard copy and are looking for the missing paragraph, I have put the missing portion in bold print. I have made my own little editorial decision here in deciding to leave out the conclusion, which I think, on second thought, was a little too much. If you want to read it, just read the article on the Weekly Trust site:

Diary of a trip to four Nigerian Cities

About three weeks ago, I was invited to the set of an Andy Amenechi film in Benin City. Friday, 7 July, I ride through Riyom in Plateau State on the way to Abuja. I make it in time for an Abuja Literary Society poetry slam at the Transcorp Hilton. Poets from Lagos, Jos, Abuja perform pieces on politics, love, Nigeria. The atmosphere is exuberant. Jeremiah Gyang plays his guitar and sings, “Take me higher. You’re the reason why I sing this song. My heart is on fire. It’s the reason why I sing this song.” Everyone sings along.

The next day, Saturday, I fly to Benin City. The same day, gunmen invade Riyom, killing over eighty people, including women and children who had run into a pastor’s house for refuge. My internet is down. I do not hear about it until the next day when I get a text from Jos. By that time, there is another attack. Over twenty more people are killed at a mass funeral, including two politicians.

Benin City, in the sealed off world of a Nollywood film set, feels like a different country. Crew members from Lagos, Cross River, Imo, Edo, Plateau set up each scene, joking, sometimes yelling. Boko Haram is discussed in a theoretical way. The story we act out is set in the 1960s, in the years following independence, before Biafra, when everything is new and the years ahead full of promise.

Although my internet eventually comes back, it is too slow to do too much. I begin to spend less time online, living in the blank space of the project, waiting for the director’s instruction. The story unfolds in multiple takes, out of chronological order, a puzzle that will be pieced together later by an editor. In downtime, off set, I study the script. When that grows tiresome, I read novels, Mukoma wa Ngugi’s cross-continental crime thriller Nairobi Heat; Eghosa Imasuen’s Fine Boys, a bildungsroman of a young man’s university days in Benin; Biyi Bandele’s World War II historical novel Burma Boy; then academic books and papers that send me to sleep.

Saturday, 14 July, during the Edo state gubernatorial elections, we work through the day inside a walled compound. Early Sunday morning, I wake to shouting, sirens, and continuous machine gunfire. My stomach clenches. The election has turned violent, I think. But when I throw on a gown and go outside to ask people what is happening, they greet me with grins. “It’s celebration,” they tell me. “Oshiomole has won by a landslide.” I return to my room and turn on the TV. Onscreen, people dance in the streets. The mood is festive. Everyone I speak to is happy. They tell me Governor Oshiomole has built roads and schools, has fought corruption. Throughout the next few days, I hear the crack of gunfire, see fountains of fireworks through the trees. In the streets of the city, Oshiomole’s likeness peers down from billboards, speeds past on the sides of cars. I am glad that democracy seems to be working in Edo State, but I grimace every time I hear the guns. “If this were Jos or Kano,” I say, “that sound would mean people were dying.”

I call Jos frequently. Friends sit through the curfew getting their news online too. I read that over 5,500 people are affected when the residents of five [the link says twenty-five] Plateau villages are temporarily moved during a security exercise. I feel so far away. I cannot write.

Friday, 20 July, the first day of Ramadan, I board a bus for Lagos. At a construction diversion on the road, we sit in a go-slow for hours. Beside us, the mobile police, in body armour, wave their guns in the air. I shrink away from the window. I feel a scream rising in my throat when the mobile police race off and our driver follows, speeding behind them. I imagine armed robbers roaming the kilometers of trapped cars, us caught in the middle. I remember people in Kano killed by stray bullets at checkpoints.

My fears are unfounded. Following the mobile police advances us hours ahead in the hold-up, and we make it to Lagos by nightfall. The next few days, I relax in Victoria Island, in 24-hour air-conditioning, with a view of the water. Boats and jet-skis speed past. At a fish park overlooking the lagoon, I speak Hausa with the young man making suya. At a party in Lekki, I chat with an expatriate couple. I mention to the husband that I had grown up in Jos. “Oh, that must be a nice peaceful place to live,” he says. I laugh. “Not so much,” I say, thinking he is joking. He stares at me, confused. A little later, I speak to his wife, again mentioning Jos. “Is that on the Mainland?” she asks.

That night we stop by a mall in Victoria Island, decorated by a huge poster of a blonde model. Fashionable young girls with perfect make-up and young men in tight Prada shirts walk past me.  As I wander into a Woolworths full of imported clothing, Fela chants over the loudspeaker: “Suffer suffer for world, Enjoy for heaven.” We eat ice-cream at the KFC. I can’t get Fela’s voice out of my head.

It is that night that I start getting sick. I think it is all the air conditioning. I jump whenever I hear a door slam or a car backfire.

Tuesday, sniffling and coughing into rolls of tissue paper, I go to MMI airport. On the TV in the waiting area, a pale Michael Jackson writhes to “Thriller,” with a host of masked creatures dancing behind him. Beyond death, he wails his haunting “Earth Song”: “What have we done to the world? Look what we’ve done./ What about all the peace that you pledged your only son?/ What about flowering fields? Is there a time?/ What about all the dreams that you said was yours and mine?/ Did you ever stop to notice all the children, dead from war?/ Did you ever stop to notice this crying earth, this weeping shore?” With his keening moan echoing in my ears, I board an Arik flight to Jos and Kano.

As we fly over the Plateau, emergency rule now lifted, I peer down through the gauzy clouds. It is green and peaceful, little patches of farms and rocky mountain tops. I wonder if there are militants hiding there in the hills—whether we might be able to see them from up here in the sky. After we land, we walk across the tarmac past a military lineup and rows of black jeeps. I turn around and look at the license plate. It says “Senator.” An airport employee tells me that Senate President David Mark and a delegation of the National Assembly has just departed after attending the funerals for Senator Gyang Dantong and majority leader of the Plateau State assembly Gyang Fulani both killed in the attacks over two weeks before. Exiting the airport, we drive through misty green hills. It is cold outside, but inside the car, with the windows rolled up, it is cozy. Farmers carry home buckets of produce on their heads. The clouds are dark overhead. The 5 o’clock news on the radio recaps the politicians’ funerals and the recent floods in Jos. “Do not throw your rubbish in the drainage ditches,” the woman appeals. “Water no get enemy. But when it has nowhere to go….” When I read the figures later, it says the floods have killed over forty people, dozens more are missing. There is fear of a cholera break out. A disaster born of rubbish.

I sleep, I cough, I wake, exercise, drink tea. Outside rain drips on leaves that have grown up to the windows. Vines wrap around roses, stifling the flowers as they climb towards the sky.

Sazzy’s lyrics and an article “In Memory of Sazzy: the music lives on”

I’m sorry I’m only just getting to this, but here is the column I wrote in commemoration of the rising star Sazzy (Osaze Omonbude), who died too soon at age 26. You can read the article at Weekly Trust online, or you can read the hard copy here by clicking on the photo, which will take you to a large copy of the article as published with photos etc. The acknowledgements were left out of the published version, but I’d like to thank Alkassim Abdulkadir, the Coordinator of Guild of Artists and Poets, for gathering and writing the section on GAP, including the comments from Yoye and Lindsey. The photos should also be credited to Korex Calibur of Intersection Media.

While I was writing this, I listened to as many of Sazzy’s songs as possible. I thought the best way to commemorate his life would be to quote his own words, and although a lot of those quotes ended up getting cut out of the final version of the article,  I thought I’d share the transcripts I made of the lyrics of at least three of his songs here.

The first one I’ll post here is the first Sazzy song I ever heard. When our mutual friend Korex posted the link to Sazzy’s music video “Doubt,” on Facebook, I spent about two hours pressing replay. The self-reflexive pidgen, the electronic electric guitar, the voice, and overall production was like no other Nigerian music I’d heard before.

Lyrics to “Doubt”:

Verse 1

Shey na me be dis or be na someone else?

Shey na me dey hear, or someone else is there?

Shey na me dey talk, or someone else dey yarn?

Shey na me dey work for here?

Shey na me dey sing or someone else dey sing?

Shey na me compose, or someone get de beat?

Shey na me dey rise, or someone’s raft discreet (CHECK)

Shey na me get this song….

Chorus:

I don dey doubt myself again, oh X 3

I don dey doubt, I don dey doubt

Verse 2

Shey I get talent, or I be just copycat?

Shey I get the skill, or I scramble like rat?

Make I come to know, or make I drop am flat?

Make I stop to chase this dream.

Shey my voice is good, or is it really bad?

Shey my style is cool, or is it really sad?

I get confidence, or shey na me dey dance?

Shey na me get this song.

Chorus:

I don dey doubt myself again oh X3

I don dey doubt, I don dey doubt

I don dey doubt myself again oh X3

I don dey doubt, I don dey doubt

Verse 3

I don really understand

Wetin dey worry me today oh

I don’t know but what I know is that

Tomorrow go be a better day.

Revised Chorus

I no go doubt myself again oh X3

I no go doubt, I no go doubt X 4

I no go doubt, doubt, doubt,

[skatting]

My next obsession was with his perfect techno breakup song “Anymore,” which you can listen to on his Myspace playlist.

Lyrics to Anymore

Verse 1

Baby, if

You ever know

The things I do

Just for you

You love me right

You treat me good

With all your heart

you say I’m cool

But if instead

you treat me wrong

You treat me bad,

black and blue

The sea is red,

my heart is far

You say it mean and that ain’t true

CHORUS:

Is it because I’m foolish in love

Is it because I’m stupid and blind

Tears from my eyes, and it feels so wrong

Baby, I can’t do this anymore

I can’t hold, I can’t hold, I can’t hold

(Doodoodoo)

This anymore

I can’t hold, I can’t hold, I can’t hold

(Doodoodoo)

This anymore

….

(Doodoodoo)

This anymore

….

(Doodoodoo)

This anymore

Verse 2

I’m back again

To the song

To my self [?]

I’m back to you

Back to my phone

To your name

To your love

Which —[?]

But it’s all a pain

You’ve made your plans

I have no name,

Nothing for you

And I’m so ashamed

We could have been

something more

something more than you…

CHORUS:

Is it because I’m foolish in love

Is it because I’m stupid and blind

Tears from my eyes, and it feels so wrong

Baby I can’t do this anymore.

I can’t hold, I can’t hold, I can’t hold

(Doodoodoo)

This anymore

I can’t hold, I can’t hold, I can’t hold

(Doodoodoo)

This anymore

….

(Doodoodoo)

This anymore X6

Here is his striking final piece, a music video of his hit song “Mr. Chairman,” briefly featuring Supreme Solar. His friend and creative collaborator Korex Calibur directed and edited the music video, which was finished after Sazzy’s death. The end result is very powerful. You can feel the tense energy coiled like a spring in Sazzy. He did not live long, but he seems to have crammed his short life full of music and friendship. In the increasingly rapid editing towards the end of the piece, you can also sense the grief and passion with which Korex edited this final music video.

Mr. C

Aha aha oh

Uh huh, oho (….) [skatting]

Verse 1

I’m the realest, I’m the coolest, I’m the newest, I’m the (best)

I’m the freshest, I’m the cutest of the chain

I’m the (nicest)

Ima  king, Ima prince, Ima man

Ima (nigga)

You should know that I’m a (killa)

Run them over like a (trailer)

Ima note, Ima chord, I’m the keys

Ima (south)

Ima script, I’m a play, I’m a show (Entertainer)

Number 1, number 2, number 3 (….) (ten)

I’m all aboard, do you understand?

CHORUS: If you see me outside, oh

Just call me Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman

Verse 2

I’m a singer, I’m a rapper, producer (extraordinaire)

I’m the bass, I’m the drums, I’m the snare, Ima (shaker)

I’m your sister, I’m your brother, I’m your mother, I’m your (father)

I’m your friend, I’m your (lover),

I’m your wife…

Ima seargent, Mr captain, Ima colonel general

Ima bullet, Ima gun, Ima tank, Ima (sub)

I’m the shit, I’m the piss, I’m your scent, I’m your (body)

I’m all aboard, do you understand?

CHORUS: If you see me outside oh

Just call me Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman,

Verse 3

I will like to suggest now, make you start to dey feel this

….

I said I would like to suggest now, make you start to dey feel this

Then feel me

CHORUS: If you see me outside oh

Just call me Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman X2

Just call me, Just call me, Mr. C, this star, […]

Finally, after his death, Sazzy’s friends, Uche the African Rockstar, Yoye, Lindsey, 5 Mics, Bugzy, and Snappy put together a tribute piece, “Yesterday, which can be listened to at NotJustOk.com.

“YesterDay”

Sazzy, always on the beat. (Not Just Ok.com)

Peace, man, ….

Chorus: Seems like yesterday I just got news you went away, but there aint no way you’ll fade away. To me, I remember how we used to be. X2

I used to think you have all the time in the world.

I feel so sorry for your girl

because she was your African Queen.

You made it in this African scene.

Oh, why?

We can’t begin to ask all these questions.

I never had a chance for me to mention

the kind of real person that you are.

No doubt that you were meant to be a star.

We’re gonna keep connecting wherever you are.

And even though you’re gone, you will never be far.

Oh Sazzy, why sazzy? I know your family, because I’m your family.

And the Almighty God has put you down to rest.

Until it is my time, I will keep you in my chest.

No matter what they say, to me, you are the best.

To me, you are the best.

CHORUS X2

You were a close friend, but now you’re so far away.

My heart bleeds, shedding tears, I kneel down and pray.

I pray the Lord your soul to keep

At heavens gate, I pray God gives you the key

We ask for his blessing, but what’s better than this?

Leaving this cruel world full of envy and greed

I shed a tear on my rhyme book

You know me Stay Positive C, the cup is half full

You always knew the answers

And if you were here

I would have asked you

Because in this wrong man, I see no good

Sazzy, you were so good.

Producer Extraordinaire

Mr. C, I salute

Never overrated, maybe underpaid

You were a trend-setter, man, you paved the way

Now much has changed, still trying to take your place,

But you were real to Death…..

CHORUS X2

Ok, it was like a joke when Gang hit me with the news

For DJ Atta said it too, and it hit me like the blues.

— tears over the phone, hearing my brother cry

Give me some broken bones

You invited me to your house, I couldn’t find my way there

Now I’m at your house, and damn you aint here

My conscious killing me. I should have been here more often.

Now the Ray Bans couldn’t stop the chairs from dropping

You kept fighting this sickness. I know you’re resting now

No more hospitals and drugs, just angels in gowns.

This boss ain’t enough to express how I feel

Sazzy, Mr. Chairman, God bless ….

CHORUS X2

Yeah, everybody put your lighters on

As we say farewell to an icon

Damn, but your music still lives on

We feel your presence in our hearts

Even though you’re gone

Yeah, I wish I never had to write this verse

I wish I never had to say “Sazzy, rest in peace”

Cuz you were loved by the streets

Forever in our hearts, Sazzy,

Rest in Peace

..

Well, well, …..

Whhhhy? Why?

Sazzy, (boom) Everybody feel your pain

But one day, we …

But one day, we wan make Zion…

CHORUS X2

Yo, Sazzy, we’re gonna miss you

I got all a your friends to come and talk to you

Because even though you’re gone, they’re gonna be talkin to you

Representing you

You’re the gospel, put it down.

Lindsey’s singing on the hook

And 5 Mics is doing it too.

Yo, Yoye, I know you’re feeling it, dog

Yo Bugzy, what’s up man, yo Snappy

Everybody’s in the crew man, we’re all gonna miss you,

We’re all gonna miss you, yeah

Because I’m the African Rockstar,

It’s because of you

And everytime I’m doing, we doing it for you

We’re never gonna forget you

Everybody awaits you.

Yehaw

Everything, It seems like yesterday

Whoohhi

It all seems like yesterday, ya’ll

I can’t say no more, man,

Just keep resting, dog,

You still live in our hearts

Yo, peace.

Music is who he was: Rest in peace, Sazzy

 

Sazzy (c) Intersection

 

I’m not sure where I first heard Abuja based producer Sazzy’s (Osaze Omonbude) music. I imagine it was when Korex of Intersection Media posted a link on Facebook to his music video “Doubt,” an addictive angst-filled track, with the cry of “I no go doubt myself again, oh” in the chorus. His techno track “Anymore” is equally angst-filled and danceable. I was hooked.

On his Facebook page, he described his sounds as

‘’indie-afro-hop done by aliens trying to be human’’. He also has no limitations on genres. “If it sounds good, I’ll do it”. […] “I just want everybody to grow with me day by day as I take over the world”.

So, when not long after, Sazzy sent me a friend request on facebook, maybe because I had been posting the video all over my wall, I responded:

July 17 at 2:31am
thanks for the friend invite. i’ve had your song “doubt” on a constant replay loop for the last 2 hours. you’ve got mad talent. take care.

He responded with gracious words (and a little advertisement):

Sazzy Omonbude July 17 at 2:41am Report
Thanks for accepting. Wow! thanks a lot, really great to hear that. Really appreciated.
I got a new international dance single. Will love to give you the link, so here it is
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RH_yYH-JmhoAnd pls dont be a stranger. 

Sazzy

The track he sent was perhaps not quite as contemplative as the others, but it was definitely danceable.

So this past Saturday morning when I signed into facebook and started seeing status updates from Abuja-based friends, saying “Sazzy, rest in peace,” it shook me. It was shattering news. I didn’t know him. We exchanged those messages and may have exchanged a couple of lines of Facebook chat, I can’t remember now. But I had gone to his page only a few days before to wish him a cheery “Happy Birthday.” I had listened to his tracks again. I hadn’t known him in person but I had known his friends, I had known his music. What does one do, what does one feel, when a facebook friend dies, someone at this level of acquaintance, new to history, whom you may have never met but whose updates you regularly see and who may have also seen your updates?

On his myspace page, he looked forward to the future:

”I really do believe with GOD, Hard work, Patience and Persistence you can achieve anything in life and I do hope all my aspirations and dreams shall come to pass. This is just the beginning for me, loads more is yet to come, music is about to change”.

And as a young talent gone too soon, his death is reminiscent of the death of rising star Dagrin only half a year ago. Now, Sazzy’s last update on Facebook seems a sad foreshadowing:

Sazzy Omonbude Hey thanx for all d birthday wishes….bin a bit ill bt thanx all d same

He had just turned 26. He had sickle cell. And he made mad good music.

 

Sazzy (c) Intersection

 

Yet, his “beginning” has become his legacy. The internet is chock full of his traces. He left behind a dance track list on his myspace page and reverbnation page (he’s currently listed as #5 on the Abuja charts), a youtube page with two videos, a twitter page full of banter, a facebook fan page that is slowly filling up with tributes, and one mix album “The Take Over,” for sale online, with some of the most promising new Nigerian artists, including Sazzy’s “Mr Chairman.”

A whole flurry of other blogs and new have written obituaries and tributes to him.  Olamilde Entertainment gives a short biography taken from his myspace page:

Sazzy born Osaze Omonbude in Nigeria, Oct. 15 1984; he had a good client and fan base in his country. His intention was to his wings internationally. As a child, he grew up listening to mostly international acts like The fugees, Notorious B.I.G, Jay-Z, Nas, Madonna, Shade, Fela and loads more. Since then he has always had a dream to sing and produce internationally, “let everybody here what I have to say’’. With a strong love for Good Music in any genre and a free mind in creativity, Sazzy was the type of act music needed. ”I really do believe with GOD, Hard work, Patience and Persistence you can achieve anything in life and I do hope all my aspirations and dreams shall come to pass. This is just the beginning for me, loads more is yet to come, music is about to change”.

Among the other sites to cover his untimely passing are modernghana.com,nigerianfilms.com, Linda Ikeji’s blogCampus HeatNigerian Entertainment Today, Abujacity.comLast Plane to Lagos, Bella Naija, and 360 Nobs. Not Just Ok, posted a tribute song by his Sazzy’s friends Uche the African Rockstar, Yoye, Lindsey, 5 Mics, Bugzy, Snappy. [UPDATE 5 November 2010: You can read the article about Sazzy I published in last week’s Weekly Trust here]

[Update 30 October 2010. Yesterday, Sazzy’s  friend Korex Calibur, whom he worked with on music videos, posted Sazzy’s final music video, a brilliant piece, which makes you realize just how much we are going to miss him….

On his myspace page, Sazzy writes,

”Every time I write or produce a song, I think outside the box and do not get caught up in music of the day or time. I make music straight from the heart. Music is who you are, I can’t be somebody else.”

And if music is who Sazzy was, he’s left a large part of himself behind in this world to comfort those who loved him.

Respect, Mr. Chairman. We will miss you!

Creative Writing Workshop with Helon Habila, Abuja, July 16-22 (and an earlier review I wrote on his Waiting for an Angel and Measuring Time)

Helon Habila, author of Waiting for an Angel, Measuring Time, and his latest Oil on Water (publication date August 2010–but an excerpt from the novel published as a short story “Irekefe Island” can be read at the Virginia Quarterly Review), will be hosting a creative writing workshop in Abuja from July 16-22. For a chance to participate in the workshop, apply by June 20, 2010. The workshop is sponsored by Fidelity Bank. For more information about Habila’s workshop and other literary opportunities in Abuja, see the website of the Abuja Literary Forum. (UPDATE 21 July 2010: The final event, which is open to the public, will be held Thursday, 22 July 2010, 4pm, at the Abuja Sheraton.)

Helon Habila speaking at the closing ceremony for the Fidelity Creative Writing Workshop, Abuja, 22 July 2010 (c) Carmen McCain

Helon Habila speaking at the closing ceremony for the Fidelity Creative Writing Workshop, Abuja, 22 July 2010 (c) Carmen McCain

In my opinion, Helon Habila is one of Nigeria’s best contemporary prose stylists, although I may be biased as my (very flawed) MA thesis was an analysis of his first novel Waiting for an Angel. Elsewhere on this blog, I have posted an interview I did with him in November 2007 and my thoughts on a piece he wrote in Next questioning the actions of the Kano State Censor’s Board. In January 2008, I had also posted a review of Waiting for an Angel and Measuring Time on my personal blog, which I will re-post here:

My review of Waiting for an Angel and Measuring Time

If you’ve never read anything by the Caine and Commonwealth prize winning author Helon Habila, the first thing to know is that his use of language is exquisite. The second thing to know is that he makes generous use of irony. Although he is a clearly political writer, he questions over-easy assumptions and political binaries. In his latest novel, Measuring Time, Habila continues the project he began in his debut novel Waiting for an Angel—that is to tell history through the eyes of ordinary people.

Waiting for an Angel opens in a prison setting. The imprisoned journalist Lomba is engaged in a battle of wits with the prison superintendent who is extorting poetry from his prisoner in an attempt to impress a woman. If Lomba’s story were told in a straight line, the way it might appear in his prison file, it would be the story of a failure: a student who drops out of university, who loses friends to madness and military violence and the women he loves to other men, a writer who never finishes his novel and whose journalistic career is cut short by his arrest in the slums of Lagos. However, this is not the story that Habila tells. By breaking up and rearranging the linear story of Lomba’s life, he wrests control of the narrative away from an environment-determined fate. The novel starts at the end of the chronological sequence and then circles back to gather stories of other characters in Lomba’s Lagos: a young boy banished from his home in Jos for smoking Indian hemp, an abandoned out-of-wedlock mother, an intellectual in a tragic love affair with a former student turned prostitute, the daughter of a general whose mother is dying of cancer, a disillusioned woman who runs a neighborhood eatery, a man who defies the soldiers on the night of Abacha’s coup, an editor pursued by the police who refuses to go into exile, a legless tailor who dreams of bidding poverty goodbye.

While the form of Waiting for an Angel reflects the frenetic beat of life in Lagos, the small town setting of Habila’s second novel Measuring Time allows for a more meandering pace. Mamo and LaMamo are twins growing up in the middlebelt town of Keti, and they hate their father, a womanizing businessman with political ambitions. They hate him for breaking their mother’s heart before she died giving birth to them, and they hate him for his long absences and his neglect. The twins’ simultaneous desire for revenge and quest for fame ends in their separation. When LaMamo runs away in search of adventure as a mercenary soldier, Mamo’s sickle cell anemia forces him to stay at home, spending more and more time in his imagination. The narrative of Mamo’s day to day life in Keti is rhythmically punctuated by adventure-filled letters from LaMamo as he travels around West Africa. Mamo reimagines events in Nigerian history: the poet Christopher Okigbo did not die in Biafra but instead lay down his gun to travel around Africa with Mamo’s Uncle Haruna. LaMamo enacts Mamo’s imagined story, becoming a soldier-poet who reports from the Liberian war front, and his words capture the spiritual horror and the boredom of war as it is rarely recorded in international news. The twins long for the other: while Mamo imagines adventures beyond the borders of his small town, LaMamo constantly searches for reminders of home in foreign lands.
The narrative of Measuring Time is frequently interrupted by folktales told by Mamo’s Auntie Marina, letters from LaMamo and a professor in Uganda who becomes Mamo’s mentor, excerpts from the memoir of the first missionary in Keti, his wife’s diary, and colonial reports, and the oral histories told by other characters. One of the most remarkable aspects of Habila’s prose is this inclusion of multiple genres alongside a continuous pattern of tributes to preexisting literary works. In Waiting for an Angel, he borrows the character of the prison superintendent from Wole Soyinka’s The Man Died and gives him some of the associations of the folkloric dodo, a dim-witted monster who is often outwitted by the youth he kidnaps. Throughout the rest of Waiting for an Angel he references writers as varied as Ayi Kwei Armah, Ousmane Sembene, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Franz Kafka, John Donne, and Sappho. Similarly in Measuring Time, he bundles together Plutarch, Christopher Okigbo, William Shakespeare, Wole Soyinka, Alex La Guma, the Arabian Nights and Faust legends, as well as references to oral tales and Nigerian video films. The effect of these competing voices is to open up the boundaries between his fiction and other fictions and historical accounts that lie outside the novel. The illusion of a smooth, progressive, and abbreviated history, such as the Brief History of West Africa that is brought to Lomba in prison (as the Letters of Queen Victoria had been brought to Soyinka in prison) is a false one. Habila’s fictional histories play a function similar to the colonial history the Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in which the district commissioner writes only a paragraph on a man who has been the subject of Achebe’s entire novel. Habila parallels Achebe’s fictional colonial text in Measuring Time with the missionary text A Brief History of the People’s of Keti by Reverend Drinkwater.

It is with these “brief histories” that Habila’s project in both Waiting for an Angel and Measuring Time becomes clear. Mamo is determined to write a history that does not “cut details” as the colonial histories had—a history that tells the stories of “individuals, ordinary people who toil and dream and suffer” (MT 180). The traditional ruler’s story he has been hired to write, Mamo states, is “simply a part of the other biographies…. [that he would] eventually compile to form a biographical history of Keti. That’s what history really is, people and their lives, no matter how we try to manipulate it. It is the story of real people with real weaknesses and strengths and… not about some founding fathers and … even if we want to write about the founding fathers we shouldn’t privilege them, we should place them on par with other ordinary folks…” (225). In Mamo’s subsequent “biographical history,” he writes of his father the failed politician, and his aunt the divorced wife, placing their stories alongside the less than glorious history of the mai, the traditional ruler, of Keti. Every story has its own place alongside the others. When LaMamo returns with a revolutionary fervour reminiscent of Ngugi’s Matigari, the separate lives of the twins blend and become one—LaMamo’s panAfrican experience and his soon to be born child are given into Mamo’s safekeeping and for recording into Mamo’s history of Keti.

Such a history is not merely a radical rewrite of racist colonial histories but an empathetic window into the lives of even the unpleasant characters. The characterization of the prison superintendent in Waiting for an Angel follows Soyinka’s original caricature, but the man is given a more complex psychology. He is a man grieving for his dead wife, a father of a young son. As Lomba realizes when he meets the superintendent’s girlfriend, “The superintendent had a name, and a history, maybe even a soul” (WfA 37). While in Measuring Time, the sleepy-eyed traditional ruler of Keti and his evil vizier take on the typed characteristics of folktale or a video film, most of the characters in Measuring Time are treated with complexity and compassion. When LaMamo calls the old widows who had pursued their father all his life “shameless old women,” Mamo reminds him that “they weren’t so bad… People are just people” (MT 343). And although the missionary Reverend Drinkwater may have misrepresented the history of Keti, his family has become a part of the history of the town. The missionary’s daughters, now old women, live in Keti, tending their parents’ graves. Although they are not Nigerian, they belong in Keti. It is the only life they have ever known.

This concern with multiple perspectives on history is behind what at first glance might seem to be an editorial flaw in Habila’s two novels. When reconstructed in both novels, time doesn’t quite add up. According to the chronology given in “Mamo’s notes toward a biography of the Mai,” the number of years between the installation of the first mai by the British and the current mai should be about thirty two or three years, yet the time period is stretched from 1918 up to the 1980s (MT 238-240). The year-long planning period for the celebration of the mai’s tenth anniversary seems to turn into three. Similarly in Waiting for an Angel, the time between Lomba’s stay at the university and his imprisonment seem much longer than the actual historical tenure of Abacha’s regime. He supposedly meets and falls back in love with an old girlfriend some time after he becomes a journalist. Yet, two weeks before he is arrested (after he has worked at the Dial for two years), another girlfriend, with whom he has lived for a year, leaves him. The times between the two love affairs don’t quite seem to add up.

Placing the novels side by side gives a hint to what Habila is doing here. In Waiting for an Angel, Habila gathers up historical events that happened along a spectrum of ten years and bundles them into the space of a week. Although Nigeria is kicked out of the Commonwealth in November 1995, in the novel, a week after this event, Dele Giwa, the editor of Newswatch Magazine, is assassinated by a parcel bomb on the same day that Kudirat Abiola is assassinated by gunmen. Of course, historically, the two activists were killed ten years apart: Dele Giwa during the Babangida regime in October 1986 and Kudirat Abiola during the Abacha regime in June 1996. The quickening rhythm of disaster in this chapter of Waiting for an Angel parallels the last quarter of the Measuring Time in which Mamo falls into the hard-partying lifestyle of corrupt politicians, religious riots break out, and the quiet town of Keti goes up in flames. Time here is not a mathematical iambic pentameter that can be measured with a clock, but a living fluctuating force that lags behind and loops around to find the stories of multiple characters. It reminds me of the way time acts in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude or in oral tales and epics. It cannot be diagramed into a dry progression of events such as those found in A Brief History of West Africa or A Brief History of the Peoples of Keti but instead can only be mediated through the memories of those who experienced it. In his afterward to Waiting for an Angel, Habila acknowledges the liberties he has taken with the chronological order of events, “[N]ot all of the above events are represented with strict regard to time and place—I did not feel obliged to do that; that would be mere historicity. My concern was for the story, that above everything else” (WfA 229).

Mamo’s story of Keti, like the story of Lomba in Waiting for an Angel, becomes in miniature the story of Nigeria—not that it can represent all the complex and multi-faceted stories of the nation, but that it offers an example of what can be written: the individual stories of ordinary people living in extraordinary times. Habila layers his work onto that of older writers such as Achebe and Ngugi who rewrote colonial history in their early works, and joins other contemporary Nigerian writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Teju Cole whose writing seems similarly concerned with providing entry points into historical events as lived by ordinary people. Measuring Time ends with the performance of a play by church women’s group, both celebrating and mocking the appearance of the missionary Reverend Drinkwater into Keti history. Mamo realizes that through their caricatured performance, they are telling the story on their own terms, invoking a way of life much older than the colonial encounter: “They were celebrating because they had had the good sense to take whatever was good from another culture and add it to whatever was good in theirs: they had done this before when they first met the Komda, and many times before that in their travels and migrations, in times earlier than even the oldest among them could remember. This was their wisdom, the secret of their survival. This was why they were still able to laugh… each generation would bring to this play its own interpretation” (MT 382). This at root is the power of Habila’s work—the ability of humanity to laugh in the face of tragedy—the ability to undermine stories that have been told for you by telling them yourself.

Presenting in Abuja today on the importance of contemporary Hausa literature

For those in Abuja, I will be presenting today on the importance of contemporary Hausa literature to national and world literature.  You are welcome to come heckle me. Greenlines Restaurant, 11 Aba close off Ogbomosho Street, Area 8, Garki. 5pm. Friday.

(Update 7 February 2010, Sunday: Another related event tonight, 6pm, GAP, Play bar and lounge, close to Pennial Apartments, Maitama, Abuja. I will be talking informally about Hausa literature and film.)

AN ELLITERATE INITIATIVE POWERED BY THE NATIONAL FILM AND VIDEO CENSORS BOARD, G.A.P

UPDATE 8 February 2010, since my presentations I have received questions about the details of the publication, etc, and I compiled this list of links. There are far more, but this is a good introduction:
Interview with Hausa novelist Sa’adatu Baba:http://ipsnews.net/africa/nota.asp?idnews=43816

Interview with bestselling author Bilkisu Funtua:
http://ibrahim-sheme.blogspot.com/2007/04/bilkisu-funtuwa-interview.html

Interview with groundbreaking author Balaraba Ramat Yakubu:
http://www.nigeriafilms.com/content.asp?contentid=2774&ContentTypeID=2

Interview with the first female novelist who wrote in Hausa Hafsat Abdulwahid: http://234next.com/csp/cms/sites/Next/ArtsandCulture/5501274-147/story.csp

Another interview with Hafsat Abdulwahid:
http://www.africanwriter.com/articles/310/1/Interview-with-Hafsatu-Ahmed-Abdulwahid/Page1.html

Info on the current censorship crisis in Kano:
http://ipsnews.net/africa/nota.asp?idnews=43857

Hausa Popular Literature Database at SOAS, London:http://hausa.soas.ac.uk/

“Hausa literary movement and the 21st century” by Yusuf Adamu: http://www.kanoonline.com/publications/pr_articles_hausa_literary_movement.html

“Between the word and the screen: A historical perspective on the Hausa Literary movement and the Home video invastion” academic article by Yusuf Adamu

“Hausa popular literature and the video film” academic article by Graham Furniss: http://www.ifeas.uni-mainz.de/workingpapers/FurnissHausa.pdf

“Loud Bubbles from a Silent Brook: Trends and Tendencies in Contemporary Hausa Prose Writing” academic article by Abdalla Uba Adamu
http://inscribe.iupress.org/doi/abs/10.2979/RAL.2006.37.3.133

“Islamic-Hausa Feminism Meets Northern Nigerian Romance: The Cautious Rebellion of Bilkisu Funtuwa” academic article by Novian Whitsitt
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa4106/is_200304/ai_n9219184/

“Parallel Worlds: Reflective Womanism in Balaraba Ramat Yakubu’s Ina son sa haka” academic article by Prof Abdalla Uba Adamu
http://www.africaresource.com/jenda/issue4/adamu.html

Hausa writer’s database (in hausa):
http://marubutanhausa.blogspot.com/

My blog post on a Hausa writer’s conference in Niger:https://carmenmccain.wordpress.com/2009/12/16/a-hausa-literary-expedition-to-damagaram-zinder-niger/

etc, etc, etc….